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What Do Canada’s New Visa Requirements Mean For Caribbean Citizens?

Canada has introduced new visa requirements for Antiguan citizens. For some, this may come surprisingly, nevertheless the government of Antigua & Barbuda have been in discussion for some time.  The reasons for this act are not clearly comprehensible seen from the Antiguan perspective.

Visa-free travel has often been considered as a barometer (as per the Quality of Nationality Index). The more countries a passport holder can travel to without the need for a visa or additional paperwork, the more significant the issuing country’s influence in global politics and trade.

Take Singapore and Germany, for example. Passports from either developed nation allow citizens to travel to 158 countries without the need for a visa. German and Singaporean passports have regularly ranked as the most powerful passports in the world as per the Quality of Nationality Index.

Caribbean countries tend to perform pretty well on these indexes, this due to the fact that these countries are basically all former European colonies, with European legal standards. Barbados, for example, ranks 20th on the same scale and Antigua and Barbuda rank 26th. Meanwhile, the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines rank somewhere in between. With visa-free access to over 125 countries, it is safe to say these Caribbean passports are relatively powerful for traveling. However, recent changes to immigration laws abroad could be eroding this power.

Canada’s New Rules

As per new requirements set out by the Canadian Government, Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda traveling to the Canada will now require an entry visa. New visa requirements were effectively imposed on Antigua and Barbuda, alongside other Caribbean countries, from the 28th of June this year.

A statement from the Communications Branch for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada said these countries no longer me et Canadian criteria for visa exemption. The Canadian authorities raised concerns specifically about the Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs) available in a handful of Caribbean countries.

Despite assurances from Prime Minister Gaston Browne about the intense vetting process, Canadian authorities remain unconvinced of the system’s ability to limit ISIS recruits in the Caribbean as well as foreign terrorists from entering Canada with a passport of Antigua and Barbuda.

The Impact

Some political analysts have become more vocal about their views on the Citizenship by Investment Programs (CIPs) offered by the government. Revoking the CIP, according to them, could be a way to prevent other developed countries from pulling the plug on visa-free travel, following the abrupt decision from Canada.

The Browne government refutes the claim that the Citizenship by Investment program has been mismanaged. Moreover, it is an act that the citizenship program of Antigua & Barbuda, has an independent set up and that scrutiny of applications under the Antiguan citizenship program is way far extended, then just the regular visa checks conducted by embassies or consulates. The Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU), which is responsible for the background checks is an independent government owned company, and not part of the public administration and is not influenced by any minister. Furthermore, through the citizenship program financed “government fees” go directly to the Citizenship by Investment Unit in Antigua – this is to enable the Antiguan CIU to pay salaries above average, to even make employees independent and assure that no bribes are taken. The set-up of this institution in Antigua is exemplary.

Moreover, when one considers the fact, that such a passport costs at least US$250,000, the allegation to the citizenship program, it would be a gateway for terrorists, seems rather be made up of thin air. Nevertheless, it is fact, what the administration claims: the program has been and still is beneficial to the local economy in Antigua & Barbuda. Donations to the National Development Fund (NDF) and investments associated with the program add (indirectly) to the local government’s revenues each year and to the Antiguan economy as a whole. The influx of wealthy migrants has helped boost commercial bank liquidity, local employment, and infrastructure spending. Since the program was started the economic impact on Antigua and Barbuda has been positive and widespread.

According to Gaston Browne the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance said in his speech to the Parliament on January 2017, that the CIP has helped the government raise  Antigua and Barbuda earned $117 million in 2016 through its Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP) while in 2015, it earned $100 million. That represents 8.1% of the country’s $1.45 billion GDP in 2016 and 12.5% of government tax revenue (According to 2017 Budget Statement in Antigua and Barbuda).

Steadroy Benjamin the Attorney General has said in a radio interview that the government intends to keep the program ongoing and called the Canadian government’s new decision a “molehill”.